The Sacred Art of Ritual of Smudging

By Reverend Alisa Battaglia


Ritual allows us to enter sacred space with awareness to flow. There is often a point of focus at the center of a ritual in present time that helps us to reclaim our spirituality. Performing ritual is simply a tool to reawaken this aspect of our being because in it provides a signal to the body to begin physiological and energetic changes to initiate change by aiming for an altered state of consciousness conducive to self-exploration and reprogramming. The ritual of smudging can be defined as "spiritual house cleaning." It refers to passing one self or an object through sacred smoke as a means of purification, which is an energetic process.

Shamanic smudging ritual is an age-old tribal tradition used for centuries by the native people of both North and South America, European peasants and Siberian shamans to open the doors of the soul to the spirit world. They burned certain herbs and incense as a way of gaining access to the soul and power of plants for spiritual, ceremonial and magical use. Certain plants when burned release a high vibrational energy through the fragrance and their smoke is used as an offering to create harmony and peace, purification and healing protection of physical and spiritual bodies, banishment of negative energies and creation of sacred space. When the herbs are burned it is thought that the soul of the plant is released to aid its energies for a particular invocation. In theory, the smoke attaches itself to negative energy and as the smoke clears it takes those negative energies with it and releases it into another space where it will be regenerated into positive energy.

Sacred Herbs used in Smudging

The plant is the teacher, the true authority on which heals or is best for magic. There are certain plants that are held in high esteem in most traditions. The smoke from sacred plants and herbs traditionally used to purify are tobacco, sweetgrass, sage, and cedar. However, the types of herbs used with their many local varieties may vary as purposes overlap and change by tradition and personal preferences.

In many traditions, shamanic smudging involves a four directions ceremony or prayer, which sends specific kinds of smoke or prayers into the four directions. Different tribes, Covens and Shamans have different smudging prayers that program the smoke to do a specific action. In general smudging is used to purify and cleanse spiritually, call for balance and harmony, to aide in divination, invoke spirits, healing powers and to carry prayers further into the Universe.

Traditional smudge sticks are tied in a bundle for easier handling. Some herbs are used loose or braided like Sweetgrass. The bundles are usually handmade and prepared using traditional methods from the finest-quality sacred herbs which are 100% pure and grown without chemical synthetics or petroleum distillates, which is important since the smoke is inhaled. Smudge sticks are used for ceremonial purposes, offerings, or simply to recreate the ancient Aromas.

Tobacco (ah-say-ma) No other plant is endowed with such qualities, which is why pure tobacco is used in American Indian rituals.

SAGE can be used for general purposes. The word sage or salvia comes from the Latin word salvare, which means "To Heal.” Sage has long been used in “smudging” ceremonies to promote purification, protection, longevity, and immortality. Studies have shown that the smoke of burning sage literally changes the ionization polarity of the air. Its element is air.

  • Desert Sage is one of the most sacred herbs among Native Americans used to purify the mind, body and spirit before prayer, meditation, ritual or ceremony and to purify sacred items such as pipes, magical tools, tarot decks and eagle feathers. This sage is great to cleanse an area, the house and for aura cleansings. The scent of desert sage is somewhat sharp, light and refreshing.
  • White Broadleaf Sage is excellent for meditation, divination, smudging, cleansing and purification. Broad leaf sage is considered the king of all sages. It is prized over all the sages for its strong aromatic properties.

Cedar was offered to the fire to smudge the lodge and people. Its smoke is wafted to ward away sickness.

Sweetgrass is excellent for cleansing sacred space that helps us to center ourselves and is traditionally believed to invite good spirits. Sweetgrass is a rare grass which is found growing wild in very few places. It has a sweet and light fragrance that does not last for long.

Herbs can be burned singly or in combination with each other. A second herb is used to bring in whatever influence is needed.

Pine Resin & Sage (either desert sage or white broadleaf sage) is a good combination that covers all four magical elements of air, fire, water and earth. This combination is appropriate for general use, cleansing, ceremony and ritual.

Cedar & Sage provides the perfect balance for cleansing and enlivening an atmosphere.


Common Herbs used in Smudging

Here are some general uses for the different herbs often used for smudging.

Copal Gold Resin or holy incense is common to the peoples of Mesoamerica. It is traditionally used as incense in divinatory and cleansing ceremonies. The resin contains aromatic chemicals called terpenes, which make it volatile and flammable. It was used by Mayan shamans prior to ingesting mushrooms. Its elemental is primarily fire and water, but can also be used for four-element general purposes. When burned, the scent is sweet, resinous, slightly woody, mildly earthy and spicy.

Myrrh Resin was used by the ancient Egyptians in rituals of healing and passing. It is one of the ingredients they used to embalm bodies. The resin is gathered from the almost leafless Middle Eastern shrub called the Commiphora Molmol. It is useful for spirituality, meditation, happiness, release, transformation, strength, confidence and stability. Its elemental is primarily earth, but can also be used for four-element general purposes. The scent is a piney and very earthy that produces a lot of smoke when burned.

Frankincense Resin is used extensively in meditation and healing and is my very favorite. It is used in numerous religious traditions such as the Catholic Church. Its scent is believed to confer divine blessing. Its elemental is primarily fire, but can also be used for four-element general purposes. Frankincense comes from the resin of an African tree and produces a rich, dense smoke when burned.

Pinon Resin was used by Native American cultures for its spiritual and healing properties that are cleansing, strengthening and warming. It is used to refresh the senses and revive a tired soul. Its elemental is primarily fire, but can also be used for four-element general purposes. The fragrance is pleasant and meditative and when burned it produces a thick stream of smoke.

Juniper was used in ancient times for ritual purification of temples. Its smoke is believed to aid clairvoyance and stimulate contact with other worlds. It is also stimulative and therefore effective in reviving a tired body, mind or spirit. Its elemental is primarily fire, but can also be used for four-element general purposes. The scent is sharp and piney and was burned during the Plague to resist disease.

Lavender is useful for attracting peace, happiness and restful sleep. It reduces depression, grief and sorrow and aids in meditation, manifestation and divination. It is traditionally associated with fairies and elves. The element is primarily air. The scent is a refreshing and light aromatic.

Yerba Santa Leaves are used for meditation and divination. It is thought to enhance psychic abilities, magical protection, healing and spiritual strength.

Hibiscus Flowers are often used in divination and psychic communication. The flowers are excellent for rejuvenating the senses and restoring life force. The elementals are water and fire. The scent is invigorating and sharp and lasts for a long time after burning.

Rose Flowers and Petals is used for meditation, divination, increasing psychic abilities and communication, contacting powers and beings in other dimensions. Traditionally the rose is associated with attracting love, conferring peace, stimulating sexual appetites and enhancing beauty. The element is primarily water. The scent is heavy, warm and aromatic with a hint of sharpness that lasts a long time after burning.

When to Smudge

Smudging ourselves daily can be very helpful in keeping balance and in maintaining a peaceful state of being, especially before meditation. Specific times to smudge are when we have been around people who are ill, depressed, fearful, angry or who are generally emotionally unbalanced. Also, when we feel blue or depressed, have been under much stress or after an argument, in which case the environment should also be cleared as well as the auric field of the person.

Alisa Battaglia
©2013